Celebrating accents: Using technologies to build student confidence in pronunciation
Every teacher wants to take their students on a journey from ‘not knowing’ to ‘knowing’, from ‘not understanding’ to ‘understanding’, from ‘not being able to do’ to ‘being able to do’.
In a culturally diverse ESL classroom, getting students to embrace their own and each other’s accents can help them gain confidence and work towards actively engaging with each other in the classroom. They can overcome their initial learning anxiety and focus more on their learning goals.
In this process from ‘not knowing’ to ‘knowing’, computer-based applications can be used to help students develop communication skills and improve engagement and confidence, all while embracing diversity.
You can watch the full recording of Jonathan Brown describing how he takes students through a learning arc with a technological focus here. Keep reading below for a summary of the ideas covered.
The Procedural Arc below describes the process of improving students’ speaking confidence through activities which increase in difficulty to work towards achieving the unit’s learning goals. Four of the activities which aim to keep the class engaged over the 14-week term include video introductions, an online debate, post-debate dictation and a spoken text analysis. The Process Model ‘triangle’ describes the three essential elements that are common to the activities in the Procedural Arc. Click on the five hotspots over the image below to explore more.
Incorporating technology into the Procedural Arc
In this Procedural Arc, you have to be thinking about how the activity and technology used acts as a pathway to the next activity; each activity is an enabler, building up students’ skills to be able to develop greater skills. The following tools can be used to support students as they develop their speaking and listening skills.
- Flipgrid is an online forum which operates much like a written forum but instead uses videos. Teachers create ‘grids’ of questions, which students respond to in the form of a video. Everyone is then able to view the video and provide comments. Click here for more instructions on how to embed a Flipgrid question into Moodle.
- View from 13:52-18:02 to learn more about creating a video introduction activity and from 18:02-25:00 to learn more about creating an online debating activity.
- Transcribe is a software designed to help people work out music from recordings. It is also used for speech transcription. This program allows you to slow down audio without changing the pitch. The Amazing Slow Downer is another application which you can use to slow down audio.
- View from 25:00-27:55 to learn more about how to take audio from the online debate activity and use it for a dictation activity.
- Audio Hijack allows you to record any application’s audio (e.g. Skype, YouTube) on your computer (Apple Mac OS only).
- View from 27:55-34:01 to learn more about how you can use Transcribe and Audio Hijack to analyse spoken text for an activity.
Tips for implementing the activities and technologies
There are a number of challenges that you may encounter while using these technologies. Here are some ideas for tackling a difficulty:
- Challenge: Technologies somewhat complex to set up
- Solution: Plan well ahead.
- Challenge: Strong modelling needed
- Solution: Model activities in class beforehand.
- Challenge: Student embarrassment
- Solution: Accept novel ways students post. For example students may feel embarrassed to film themselves so they film the ceiling instead.
- Challenge: Disengagement
- Solution: Give feedback as quickly as possible especially when you don’t see the students often. Have a system in place or create templates for quick feedback and to save you time.
- Challenge: Absent feedback
- Solution: If students fail to post comments or feedback in an activity that requires these details before moving forward, you will need to monitor the activity and step in for missed work.
- Challenge: Classroom technology
- Solution: Test the technology works beforehand!
To determine the effectiveness of the activities and technology in improving speaking skills, I conducted a survey which asked, “Has your English pronunciation improved?” The results revealed 95% (18/19) of respondents said that they had felt their pronunciation improved “a lot”.
In the course, there were no pronunciation or vocabulary drills and there was no transmission style error correction. Instead there was a focus on celebrating the diverse accents of the class. Supported by the right technology and pedagogical approach, students were able to achieve speaking skill success in a highly interactive course.